II

Heddwyn did not actually live in town. After living the past ten years outdoors, the town felt so closed in that he could only last there about one day. As such, he bought a house about a mile from the town so that he had some place of his own to stay while on leave. He hoped that when he finally retired he could spend more time here than just that.

Few houses nowadays had such privacy as this house did. The house rested quite a ways from the road and under some hundred year old trees. Besides the trees shielding himself, he had a thicket behind his yard and beyond that a few acres of land.  Heddwyn rented out the land to someone to farm, and in the process kept the land from becoming too cumbersome when he could farm it himself after he retired.

His estate manager Haldon made certain that the house was ready for him when he arrived, which turned out to be some time after sunset. Jacey looked around it thoughtfully, and he could tell that she found it nice but lacking something. What it lacked, he could not tell for sure. True, it lacked the stylishness of Eva’s home but it was safe and a shelter for himself away from everyone else. Here, he could relax.

After the banquet that was.

In the morning the seamstress that Haldon hired for Jacey arrived to do some last minute alterations for the dress Jacey would wear. As soon as he felt comfortable that things were moving smoothly there, he rode into town for business.

As always when alone, his mind went over a particular event that was somehow dubbed important. This happened to be his conversation with Jacey. He heard quite a bit of it before he interrupted the slave girl. But never had he expected to hear that she loved him.

Even now, he could not fathom why. He had attempted to not necessarily discouraged her love but he had tried to make it more businesslike than a relationship. True, he sometimes caught himself thinking of her as more than a partner. NOt often. Only for a few moments, when some part of him felt like he would die except for the touch of Jacey and her quiet, soothing voice.

But–love?

He couldn’t love her. He wouldn’t love anyone. The best he allowed himself was a casual relationship with his men and that was all. To love meant he could lose and he would not put himself in that position again.

Although he always found the debriefings long and his filing of orders even longer, the trip to town involved him also getting a hair trim, down to the short length that many people considered acceptable. With his hair short, he felt particular cold as he rode home. Still, with only  the few hours of socializing the banquet required, he felt almost confidant that he could survive.

Heddwyn felt something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his house. He couldn’t tell what though for a moment, for as he glanced around the sparse furnishings, he saw nothing out of place. Still, Jacey, who he had grown to expect her greeting as soon as he arrived, did not come or even call. He glanced through the house, calling her occasionally, only to be greeted with silence. He could not even tell what she had been doing. It was like she vanished.

A peculiar tightness in his chest began forming as he ran  outside and glanced around the yard. Still, no sign of her. Automatically he scanning the ground, the trees–anything–for a sign of what happened. Even with his skill, he could not tell what possibly happened for everything just lumped together in a giant mess. All he knew was this–Jacey was gone and he had to find her. Soon, before something terrible happened.

Heddwyn ran towards the barn to get his horse. Just as he rounded the corner, he ran into someone, knocking them to the ground. He glanced down quickly and began moving on at the same time, only to realize that he had run into Jacey.

“Jacey!”

Jacey stood and brushed back her hair. “Heddwyn, I didn’t think you were coming back so soon.” She smiled and her eyes flicked over his hair. “You look nice.”

“Where were you?” he said.

Jacey frowned. “What? Out riding. Why?”

Heddwyn took her arm and began walking her back towards the house. “Since when did you think that you could go riding? YOu know the rules.”

“Since–since you wanted me to get better at riding and we came to a perfectly safe location for practice.”

He shoved her into the house. “You cannot go riding alone. Ever. Not here. Not in Ketekey. That is the rule.”

Jacey turned and faced him. “Heddwyn, calm down. That is perfectly irrational. Why can’t I go riding by myself in Targo?”

“Because–because I said that you can’t. Is that good enough for you?”

“Not really. Not with something like this.”

“Well, it has to be. You cannot leave without escort no matter where we are.”

“Heddwyn, if I waited for you to do everything that I wanted to do I would never do anything.”

“Then maybe you should find amusements that do not involve you leaving the house. I will not change my mind on this, Jacey.”

“You–this–is completely illogical.”

“What is?”

“I will not be held prisoner by you. In this country, it makes no sense.”

“I do a lot of things that might make no sense to you but makes enough sense to me that you should listen–and obey–them.”

“And this is one of them?”

Heddwyn could not honestly remember the last time someone talked to him with such a condescending tone. “Yes. This is one of them.”

“Then how about you try to explain to me why I cannot do anything besides sit inside and knit!”

“You are wanting to go tramping around recklessly in a country that you don’t even know. You don’t know what might be out there. You don’t know if there are animals or thieves or soldiers or just the wrong people. YOu don’t know. And no one will be there to protect you.”

“I’m not helpless either. I can handle myself when I need to.”

“No you can’t! You cannot handle it if there are five men who try to capture you. You cannot stop an arrow. You cannot riding fast enough to outride trained men. You cannot do nearly as much as you think can. You aren’t that strong.”

“All that might be true if we were in Ketekey but we are in Targo now–”

“Which is no reason to disregard safety.”

“I am not disregarding safety! I am thinking logically that there is little reason why there would be trained and armed men in this country who would want to hurt me. I don’t think anyone from Ketekey has even gotten into this part of the country, and I know for a fact it is nearly impossible to get into Targo without passing on the roads that your people guard so diligently.”

“If people want to get pass, they can.”

“And why would they? To kill me? Heddwyn, that makes no sense.”

“That is why you have to listen to me. Because I know things that you don’t.”

“Even if I do listen to you and completely obey you in your crazy, paranoid notions, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think you are a complete–a complete–jadorti!”

They both stopped, staring at each other. The silence seemed to press tightly around them, holding in the Aldroian word that just cut through the air like a thunder clap. Heddwyn wasn’t certain when he had switched into speaking Targo–for it must have been him–but she had switched into it just as easily, with neither of them noticing the switch.

Without Jacey noticing the switch.

He shuddered and turned away. Jacey just stood against the wall where he pushed her, watching him almost passively, almost nervously. Heddwyn swallowed. She had to have understood him all this time. She had to have known. No one could learn a language that quickly.

Heddwyn looked back at her. She just stood there, like a statue, completely unsure how to respond. She had more to her than he ever imagined. She was just as scared of this arrangement as he was. Neither of them truly knew what to expect from the other.

He wasn’t sure who moved or why. But suddenly, he found himself kissing her. And not gentle, cautions kisses either but kissing her in a way that he felt like his life would end if he stopped. She returned them, holding him, clinging to him. Something in his chest burned, like he needed to tell her something and yet couldn’t.

He held her head with his hands but pulled back a few inches to look at her. She smiled faintly.

“You don’t need to protect me so much, Heddwyn,” she whispered.

Heddwyn shook his head. “But I do. You just don’t know.” He kissed her again. She would never know.

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